Source 1 : ‘Proposals for keeping the streets, lains and passages of Edinburgh neat and clean by voluntary subscription’, 1734-5
Manuscript (NLS reference: MS 1955)
In the 1730s, the city of Edinburgh was overcrowded, cramped, and insanitary.
Extending only a mile from end to end, it had 23,500 citizens and was full of narrow passageways and high tenement buildings. Due to geographical and defensive constraints, the city had grown upwards rather than extending outwards. It was bounded on the north by a loch, and by the city wall and town gates to the south.
The ‘most fetid of European capitals’
This proposal for keeping the streets clean was written by Robert Mein, and later published as ‘City Cleaned and Country Improven’ (1760).
According to Robert Chambers, an Edinburgh publisher of the 19th century, Mein was a ‘great lover of his native city’ and ‘desired to see it rescued from the reproach under which it had long lain as the most fetid of European capitals’.
We are grateful to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for permission to reproduce this extract from the ‘Proposals for keeping the streets, lains and passages of Edinburgh neat and clean by voluntary subscription’.
For keeping the streets, lains and passages of the city of Edinburgh neat and clean by a voluntary subscription of the proprietors and possessors of the sundry houses therein. For paying proportionally amongst them the charges for carryng off all such things as used to be thrown over the windows by two men labourers serving 50 familys, whose rents amount to 800 £ a year by their valuation in the city stent books. The possessors paying the men’s wages, at the rate of one half penny of the pound of their valued rent per month, and the proprietors paying at first for the veshels and utencils necessary for the work whereby the profet and advantage that will accrew to both possessor and proprietor, and even to the meanest servant is very evident and will more than compensate for all the charges. Besids our sweet and comfortable dwelling together in peace when all such occasion of dirty strife and quarling is thereby forever removed.
- How does the author encourage property owners to buy into this scheme? What are the proposed social and personal benefits?
- How useful is this source as evidence for living conditions in Edinburgh in the early 18th century?